We’ve just spent a very pleasant “minimoon” in the Lake District, having a lovely, relaxing time with lots of reading. I managed to read two and two bits (a third of Thomas Hardy’s “The Well-Beloved”, which turns out to be a rather odd choice for the newlywed to read, and part of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”, which didn’t really grab me and I’m not going to finish. I did also manage to buy FIVE books – how did that happen? More info on those after the reviews …
Charlie Hill – “The Space Between Us”
(21 November 2013 Oxfam Bookshop)
Charlie Hill was taught by the husband of one of my friends, is a friend of another and in a writing group with yet another, who is mentioned in his acknowledgements, so clearly it was time to read and review this one (his new one, “Books”, is on my wishlist). It’s also set in early-1990s Moseley, which is where I was when it was, if you see what I mean, so even more apt. It was also set up to disappoint of course – luckily it didn’t!
It’s set among the unemployed and artistic community of a more bohemian and raggle-taggle Moseley than perhaps exists today, underpinned by ageing hippies and unthreatened by general culture or the Establishment, with a different vibe from that of Kings Heath down the road (where I’m writing this review). It gets the atmosphere completely right (although I was a student at the time, not a group particularly mentioned or celebrated in the book), and is full of endearingly odd characters, including the narrator, who you shouldn’t really warm to, given that he spends his life drifting along doing what he fancies and not being exactly faithful to the woman he’s involved with. There’s a touching love story which lurches to a start and looks set to drift to a stop at any minute, and the whole is set against the growing community protest movement against bypasses and the Criminal Justice Act.
It’s a good story, if episodic and sometimes vague (echoing the protagonists’ lives to an extent). Linguistically it’s very inventive and playful, mixing slang and poetic devices to extremely good effect, enhancing the dreamy yet absorbing nature of the reading experience. It’s also funny and very interesting on the background to the ‘DIY culture’ of the early to mid-90s (which I’ve just been reading about in the protest songs book I’ll be reviewing next time, fortuitously enough). A good read and highly recommended, to locals and ex-locals but also to anyone interested in inventive new writing and writing about this time period.
Laura Kriska – “The Accidental Office Lady”
(BookCrossing 07 April 2014)
I was shocked to receive an email about a BookCrossing BookRing (a book that’s passed from person to person on an organised list) as I haven’t joined any for years – it looks like I joined this one in 2007! As BookRings are supposed to be read and sent on within a month, I thought the minimooon would be an ideal time to whizz through this one, and so it was. I read about half of it on the train journey home.
The author was born in Japan and studied Japanese, with a year in a Japanese university, so she obviously jumped at the chance of a two-year stint working for Honda in Japan before returning to her new job in its US operations. This is the story of how she carved out her own role and individuality – in society and the company – amidst the culture clash and environment of self-enforced conformity, learning to negotiate in the Japanese way and to make friends along the way.
I liked the details about exactly how she lived her life, her housing situation and arrangements, and enjoyed the honesty about the culture clash and its frustrations but also her appreciation of Japanese culture and attempts to fit in. I would love to find out what happened next, as this is a few years old now.
In terms of book acquisitions, on Wednesday we took a day trip to Kendal where there is one of those outlet malls – didn’t buy anything else there but I did find a Works shop (of course I did) where I picked up the above two new Georgette Heyers (not new to me, of course, but they seem to be drip-feeding them into the stores and I definitely haven’t re-read these recently) and Tracey Thorn’s autobiography, about which I’ve heard good reports.
I also remembered as we walked down the hill from the railway station that there was an excellent bookshop at the top end of Windermere, Fireside Bookshop, and that’s where I gleefully pounced upon the copy of “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists”. I was very happy to find this because I have for a while now had it planned for the 1914 entry in my Century of Books project (it’s one of the only decent books published that year), but I’m making an effort not to push the acquiring for the project, as such – as I happened upon this one, that was fine.
I also spotted “Penguin Portrait” there on the first visit, but wasn’t sure whether it was a duplicate of a book I already have in hardback. So I went back to the hotel and checked, and then picked that one up on the way back up the hill to the station on Thursday (it was handy that Matthew bought a new rucksack in Kendal, so we could fit in the extra books and Mint Cake).
Oh, and the picture to the right? This records the first time I’ve written my new name in one of my books (although the first book acquisition of our married life was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah” from our friend Bridget: I seem not to have written in that one yet). I also include in that picture the web address and email address of the Fireside Bookshop – a lovely bookshop that does mail order too – I was very glad to find it still going.
While we’re on the subject of lovely independent shops, here’s one Matthew spotted for me on the approach to Windermere Station – Sew Much Fun. The manager is a lovely lady who grew up locally – so nice to see people staying in their local communities rather than moving away, and it’s a rather nice shop with lots of supplies crammed into a tiny space. They do classes, too (see pic to the right).
So, some good times, some good reading, and some good new books. I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from this blog while working my way through “33 Revolutions Per Minute” – what have you all been up to?